Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Feast for East and West

Pope Benedict XVI like Pope John Paul II before him has made seeking full unity with our brothers and sisters in the Eastern Churches a priority of his pontificate. Explaining his urgency in this endeavor, John Paul often spoke of the need for Christ’s Church to “breathe with both lungs” – East and West together.

This desire is born of an awareness that East and West express the Christian faith in different ways which would be mutually beneficial, were we not sadly divided.

I had my first taste of the Eastern Churches when I visited Holy Transfiguration Monastery near Ukiah in northern California during college. The monastery is part of a Byzantine rite church in full communion with Rome. There I experienced a beauty and transcendence in liturgy that had me return again and again. It was something totally foreign to me and yet fully part of the one true faith.

One of the striking differences between East and West is in their respective treatment of saints. Like the West, the East has a myriad of saints, but in Eastern liturgy and iconography there is a much greater emphasis on the central characters. It was a great surprise to me to find out that in the East, Mary Magdalene is considered as central as it gets, beyond being the Mother of God or Christ Himself. In my upbringing at least, she was fairly tangential.

But consider what we know of her. She was the first to see the Risen Christ and it was to her that Christ gave the task to inform the apostles of his resurrection. So in the East, she is called “Equal to the Apostles” and “Apostle to the Apostles”.

If you think of a saint as someone whose life proclaims Christ risen from the dead, then Mary Magdalene is very important indeed. You and I and every sinner, every saint, every pope, priest and nun, every Eastern and Western Christian, every person who ever confessed, “On the third day He rose again,” says so because Christ told Mary Magdalene “Go tell my brothers.”

Today is her Feast Day and Kansas Catholic has a post on her with useful links, including an indulgence related to her Feast.

Disputations blog has an interesting post on Jesus’ other words to her, “Touch me not”.

Orthodoxwiki has an article on her place in the Orthodox Church as well as some links and hymns to her including:

When God, who is transcendent in essence,
Came with flesh into the world, O Myrrhbearer,
He received you as a true disciple, for you turned all your love toward Him;
Henceforth you would yourself work many healings.
Now that you have passed into heaven, never cease to intercede for the world!